Columbus duo arrested, charged in CARES Act fraud scheme

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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – Two Columbus residents are in custody after a federal grand jury indicted the pair on charges of wire fraud and theft of government property related to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in the amount of $364,200.

Curtis Porch, 48, and Dereen Porch, 43, both of Columbus, were taken into custody by federal agents after the grand jury returned a four-count indictment detailing a web of fraudulent businesses and made-up employees.

The indictment says the pair registered three separate transportation businesses that had no employees, revenue or assets.

If convicted, Curtis and Doreen Porch “face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for wire theft and a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for theft of government property,” according to a news release.

The indictment claims the defendants “submitted fraudulent loan applications to the Small Business Administration (SBA) in June and July 2020, seeking CARES Act money for shell companies that suffered no losses as a result of harm related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Congress enacted the CARES Act on March 27, 2020 to provide federal relief to people impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act allocated billions of dollars to the Paycheck Protection Program, which was intended to provide loans for small businesses to keep employees on the payroll.

The CARES Act also provided the Small Business Administration money for Economic Injury Disaster Loans, for individuals, households and businesses in federally-declared disaster areas.

The online application for CARES Act funding required all applicants certify, under the penalty of perjury, that the information they provided was “true and correct.”

FNP Trucking, LLC, was a Domestic Limited Liability Company with Curtis Porch named as registered agent and organizer by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office since Nov. 2016.

Curtis Porch was also named as registered agent and organizer for Buckner Transportation, LLC since Aug. 4, 2020.

Porch to Porch Transportation, LLC was organized through the Sec. of State’s office on Aug. 5, 2020, with Dereen Vera Fitzgerald, also known as Dereen Porch, named as the registered agent and organizer for Porch to Porch.

All three LLCs were listed under different businesses addresses. Under Georgia law, LLCs are required to list a businesses address that is “the same as the address of the registered office refered to” in the Certificate of Organization.

The indictment alleges Curtis and Doreen Porch “devised a scheme and artifice to defraud the United States Small Business Administration (“SBA”), and to obtain money from the SBA, by means of false and fraudulent pretenses and representations that related to loan and/or grant requests made to the SBA, under the auspices of the CARES Act, which resulted in monies wrongfully being issued to the Defendants by the SBA.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations unit are investigating.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Melvim Hyde is prosecuting.

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